In my expert opinion, there are two books any writer worth their ink should have on their shelves: The first is Stephen King’s masterpiece On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and the second is The Productive Writer by Portland-based writer Sage Cohen.
I love On Writing because the idea that the Master of Horror began his writing career toiling away on a typewriter in a small, cramped room with only a furnace and his drug addiction to keep him company feeds a romantic part of my brain. Sage Cohen’s book is the perfect How to Be A Writer handbook with outlines, worksheets and goals to plan your writing career … and sound advice like keeping your butt in that seat until you’ve written your word count for the day. Sure, there are other books like Anne Lamont’s masterpiece Bird By Bird where she coined my favorite phrase: I have a black belt in co-dependency but Sage and Stephen’s book are the ones I pick up when I need advice or inspiration.
I keep a well-loved copy of the The Productive Writer on my desk and thumb through it while I’m waiting for my computer to boot up. I wasn’t searching for anything in particular one night, but Sage’s spirit (or muse) seemed to have been hovering around me when I read the sentence: Claim your carrot – find the motivation that keeps you going.
If there is such a thing as a carrot-shaped light bulb it would have exploded over my head. What exactly is MY carrot as a writer anyway? For a long time it was extra income but now that I’m gainfully employed, I’ve lost track of my carrot. I thought about the idea and as my computer slowly booted up and pulled out my journal and made a list as good Virgos do:
- Bragging Rights
- Met deadlines
- A checked box
- Name in print
- The next new shiny object
I inspected my list and realized that except for the achievement and mastery parts, my carrot was mighty anemic.
Now, my writing origins started in journalism and I have always associated writing with work and deadlines. I edit as I type and it’s impossible for me to free write and go back and edit later. While watching the movie (the book is better) The Orchid Thief, I realized I could never be a “real” writer because I have never written naked or drunk or both at the same time. I also never really had a writing carrot other than meeting a deadline or inertia. Perhaps it’s time for me think long and hard about my writing carrot and the elements that make it up. I want to make writing my passion rather than something I just do.
A former college of mine posted on Facebook that she wanted a small cabin in the woods with high ceilings, a typewriter and an endless supply of paper. She makes writing her passion, I make it a chore. As I noted in a previous blog, it’s time I become a master at something, not a dabbler. It’s time for me to write clearer sentences with better transitions and feed my love for words, and most importantly, make it fun.
What about you, Gentle Reader, what is your carrot? How do you define it? What would it look like if you could hang it front of your computer or typewriter? Drop me a line and let me know!